Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamGraham denies pressuring top Georgia election official to throw out some ballots Georgia secretary of state says Graham, other Republicans have pressured him to toss legal ballots The Hill’s 12:30 Report – Presented by Capital One – World reacts to news of second COVID-19 vaccine with 90 percent efficacy MORE (R-S.C.), one of President TrumpDonald John TrumpTucker Carlson assures viewers his show ‘not going anywhere’ following presidential election Trump senior advisers dissuaded president from military strike on Iran: report Senators clash on the floor over wearing masks: ‘I don’t need your instruction’ MORE’s staunchest Senate allies, has found himself embroiled in controversy over his conversation with Georgia’s secretary of state, who says the GOP senator pressured him to find ways to exclude ballots from being counted.
Some Republican senators have recognized Joe BidenJoe BidenTucker Carlson assures viewers his show ‘not going anywhere’ following presidential election Trump senior advisers dissuaded president from military strike on Iran: report Senators clash on the floor over wearing masks: ‘I don’t need your instruction’ MORE as the president-elect, and others have said they’re going to let the courts handle disputes over vote counts.
Graham himself offered a fist bump to Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisPence to campaign in Georgia with Loeffler and Perdue on Friday Amanpour says she ‘regrets’ Trump-Kristallnacht comparison after criticism Karl Rove overseeing Republican financial effort to hold Georgia Senate seats MORE (D-Calif.) on Tuesday when she returned to the Senate floor for a critical vote, seemingly congratulating the vice president-elect.
Yet Graham has staked out an aggressive position of questioning the vote results in several key states, particularly in Georgia.
Graham told reporters Tuesday that he spoke to Arizona Gov. Doug DuceyDoug DuceyGraham: Senate may confirm Trump judges into 2021 Arizona voters approve ballot measure to raise taxes on high-income households Aides tried to get Trump to stop attacking McCain in hopes of clinching Arizona: report MORE (R) about election procedures in addition to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, who claims that Graham pressured him to throw out ballots from areas with higher rates of discrepancies between the signatures on mail-in ballots and those on file in the voter database.
The South Carolina senator also said he received a briefing about the process for counting mail-in ballots in Nevada but couldn’t remember exactly who provided it.
Raffensperger made a bombshell claim Monday when he told The Washington Post that Graham asked if the secretary of state had the power to exclude all mail-in ballots in counties with higher rates of nonmatching signatures.
Graham on Monday evening denied the charge. He claimed he was merely asking about the process.
“I’m asking him to explain to me the system,” Graham told reporters.
“If you’re going to have mail-in voting, you got to verify the person who signed the envelope is also the person” in the voter database, he said.
Graham said he spoke to Trump on Monday evening but that the two discussed “national security.”
On Tuesday, an aide to Raffensperger corroborated the claim that Graham tried to pressure Georgia’s secretary of state to exclude ballots.
Gabriel Sterling, who works as an election implementation manager under Raffensperger, told CNN that Graham asked whether officials could ask a judge to throw out a large batch of ballots because of signature discrepancies.
“What I heard was basically discussions about absentee ballots, and if a — potentially — if there was a percentage of signatures that weren’t really, truly matching, is there some point when you get to where you can say, if somebody went to the courtroom, could say, ‘Let’s throw out all these ballots because we have no way of knowing because the ballots are separate,'” he told CNN.
Graham defended his actions on Tuesday and said he had expanded his conversations to officials in Arizona and Nevada. Graham’s comments created the impression that he spoke to the secretaries of state in both battlegrounds.
But when a reporter tweeted that Graham spoke with Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs (D), Hobbs immediately fired off a tweet asserting that she did not speak with the Republican senator. Graham later clarified that he spoke with Ducey, the Republican governor.
Graham said he received a briefing on Nevada’s process but didn’t speak to any official in the state.
“Here’s the goal, is to try to find a way to validate signatures better than we have today. It’s not complicated. It wasn’t about trying to change an election result. It’s to try and find out how do you deal with mail-in voting signature validation,” he said.
Top Republicans are standing by Graham, who has gone from being one of Trump’s biggest critics in 2015 to one of his most vocal defenders after the 2016 election.
Sen. Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntDeadlock leaves no clear path for lame-duck coronavirus deal Senate GOP calls grow to give Biden access to intelligence briefings Schumer, Pelosi want Heroes Act as ‘starting point’ in new COVID-19 relief talks MORE (R-Mo.) — who chairs the committee with oversight of election procedures —said Graham “wouldn’t be the first” senator to make such a call.
“I wasn’t concerned about that as I looked through it and read it carefully,” he said. “I mean, every senator can talk to anybody who will pick up the phone and talk to them, and any secretary of state should be willing to talk to any senator who calls them, in my view. So I didn’t see it as troublesome,” Blunt said.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellSenators clash on the floor over wearing masks: ‘I don’t need your instruction’ On The Money: Biden urges Congress to pass Democrats’ COVID-19 relief package | Fears of double-dip recession rise | SEC’s Clayton to resign at end of 2020 Overnight Defense: Pentagon prepping for Trump order to draw down in Afghanistan, Iraq | Questions swirl after DOD purge | 10th service member killed by COVID-19 MORE (R-Ky.) declined to weigh in on Graham’s actions.
Democrats were more critical, warning that Graham’s actions represented interference.
“A classic example today was the chairman of the Judiciary Committee calling around to states to try to interfere with the process. That was reckless, inappropriate,” said Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerBiden could lose Georgia Senate races all by himself Puerto Rico’s statehood piques Congress’s interest post-election Feds charge Staten Island man over threat to Schumer, FBI MORE (D-N.Y.), characterizing Graham as “meddling with the vote counting in states that Trump lost.”
Sen. Sheldon WhitehouseSheldon WhitehouseElizabeth Warren slams Justice Alito over ‘nakedly partisan’ speech Democrats warn GOP will regret Barrett confirmation GOP Senate confirms Trump Supreme Court pick to succeed Ginsburg MORE (R.I.), a Democrat on the Judiciary Committee and the former attorney general of Rhode Island, said it would be “problematic” if Graham tried to influence how state officials handle recounts and legal challenges brought by the Trump campaign against vote counts showing Biden won the election.
“If all he’s trying to do is get information, people are entitled to do that. If he’s trying to influence the way they perform their duty, that becomes a bit problematic. And without knowing what was said, I can’t tell which is which,” Whitehouse said.
Graham said he’s reaching out to state officials as “a United States senator who’s worried about the integrity of the election process.”
“What I want to know: How does it work in Georgia? Is it bipartisan? Here’s my bottom line: Any signature verification system [for mail-in balloting] needs to be bipartisan,” he said.
Graham’s outreach comes as he’s echoed Trump’s concerns about potential fraud in key states where the president is trailing Biden. Election experts have denied that an increase in mail-in voting leads to widespread fraud, and Trump’s legal team has had a series of setbacks in court.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), another former state attorney general, said it’s hard to judge whether what Graham did was appropriate without knowing the details of his conversation.
“I’m certainly going to presume he was careful to avoid any violation of law,” he said. “But the judgment should be made by people who know exactly what he said.”